Here, have some Mexican meth

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The Times reports that although restrictions on pseudoephedrine sales have cut down on availability of home-cooked methamphetamine, the void is being more than filled by imported Mexican meth of substantially higher purity:
In a survey of treatment professionals, 92 percent said they had seen as many or more methamphetamine addicts; the state treated 6,000 in 2005 and expects to treat more than 7,000 this year, based on current trends. Some health officials said abuse among women, typically the biggest users of methamphetamine, was rising particularly fast.

While seizures of powdered methamphetamine declined to 4,572 in 2005 from 6,488 in 2001, seizures of crystal methamphetamine increased, to 2,025 from one.

Federal drug agents tend to describe ice as methamphetamine that is at least 90 percent pure. Officials here say much of their crystal methamphetamine is less pure - "dirty ice," they call it. But either is far more potent than homemade powdered methamphetamine; a "good cook" yields a drug that is about 42 percent pure, but around 25 percent is more common. And in the first four months after the law took effect here, average purity went to 80 percent from 47 percent.

Next time I get a cold, maybe I can synthesize some sudafed from meth.


You'd think that after all of our experience with various point solutions to drug control, policy makers would expect this sort of market adaptation by now.

Of course not. We still haven't learned the lesson of the 1920s yet.

Naw, ekr, meth itself has a decongestant effect. No need for chemistry on your part.

Plus, it evidently gets you really high!

Kevin: Come now; surely you know they act to be seen to be doing something more than anything else. Those thoughtful enough to know no good will come of this either don't care, or know that if they don't go along their opponent in the next election will say "soft on drugs!".

(And of course, those not thoughtful enough to realise it won't have a positive effect must be non-zero in number, and would go along with such a scheme in the best good will and intentions.)

I guess I'm just an eternal optimist. I was hoping that people would eventually (say after 20 years or so) notice that the war on drugs hasn't actually decreased drug use and politicians wouldn't be able to reflexively dismiss alternative approaches.

Kevin, if you mean "the war on drugs hasn't actually decreased drug use" compared with legalization, then I beg to differ. If I recall correctly, America's experience with alcohol is that criminalization reduced use by a factor of about three, and that legalization led to a gradual return, over subsequent decades, to pre-criminalization use rates.

One can argue, of course, over which drugs are damaging enough to be worth the costs of criminalization to discourage the use of. But I'd think meth would be a pretty darned good candidate.

My understanding, courtesy of the US Libertarian Party, is that per capita alcohol consumption reached its highest level during Prohibition and fell off immediately afterwards. Which of us is wrong?

Well, here's the best data I could find on the Web, by an author who's clearly anti-prohibition. It shows a substantial decline in alcohol consumption during the prohibition years, such that alcohol consumption didn't recover to it's 1910 levels until 1975, nearly forty years after prohibition was repealed.

What I find most striking about the chart, though, is the decline in alcohol consumption during the period 1830-1870--when prohibition was gradually being imposed on more and more states and localities. Apparently,

In 1847, the first such cure was enacted for the state of Maine (Cherrington, 1920: 134). (Actually, the first Prohibition law went into effect in 1843 in the territory of Oregon. This was repealed five years later.)

A wave of prohibition statutes followed. Delaware, on the heels of Maine, passed its first prohibition law only to have it declared unconstitutional the following year. Similar laws were enacted in Ohio, Illinois, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York during the next few years. They met with varying fates, including veto by the governors, repeal by the legislatures and invalidation by the state supreme courts.....Ultimately, all but one of the states repealed the prohibition statutes of the 19th century (Grant, 1932: 5; Peterson, 1969: 123).
As the United States came closer to war, the antipathy which developed against the Central Powers was directed with equal force against brewers and tipplers.....By 1913, nine states were under stateside prohibition. In 31 other states, local option laws were in effect. By reason of these and other variants of regulatory schemes, more than 50% of the United States population was then under prohibition.
All of these developments show up pretty clearly in the consumption statistics: a major decline in consumption in the mid-19th century, as prohibition laws come into effect; a slow recovery from the late 19th century into the early 20th; a mild drop around the second wave of statewide prohibitions, followed by a sharp drop around the imposition of national prohibition; and another slow recovery following its repeal. Whatever else one may say about prohibition--and it certainly had all sorts of unpleasant side effects--it appears to have markedly reduced overall alcohol consumption.

I don't think the data are anywhere near as clear as you make out. Several points:

(1) The year-by-year 1920-1930 data shows a very sharp drop in 1921 (right after passage) followed by a fairly steep rise through 1930 where rates were up to about 70% of the rate in 1910. In 1929 it was well over the 1918 rate, let alone the just-post prohibition rate. That's not what I'd call a clear success.

(2) There's actually a quite dramatic drop in the recent data
for the period 1980 (2.6 gpc) to 2002 (2.2 gpc), this despite no nationwide prohibition.

An alternate interpretation of this data is that there has been a lot of change in societal norms and attitudes towards alcohol. During one such period of decreasing usage it became increasingly possible for people to pass prohibition laws, which is why you see the long slow decline. This more or less coincided with the nadir of the usage trend and things trended upwards for a while till about 1980 and now they're trending back downward. Separating out the effects of those long-term societal trends from the prohibition laws is not at all easy and I don't think the data you've shown clears the bar.

I agree completely that laws and "societal norms and attitudes" are richly intertwined. But I believe that the influence goes in both directions, with laws affecting, and not simply being determined by, social norms.

More to the point, if the two are sufficiently highly correlated, then I don't see what the value is in distinguishing between them. What difference does it make whether use of alcohol or other drugs is suppressed by prohibition itself, or instead by societal abhorrence so strong it leads to prohibition? Unless you can explain how to break the connection that you yourself concede exists between strong societal disapproval and prohibition--and I frankly don't see how that break could ever occur--we might as well treat them as, for all intents and purposes, one and the same thing.

(In fact, I'm under the strong impression that you don't want society to disapprove of alcohol or drug use the way it disapproves of, say, petty theft--that is, at the level at which it normally chooses to impose legal prohibition. Am I wrong?)


I didn't say anything about alcohol. I said "war on drugs". While I believe this "war" originally dates back to 1971 from a speech made by Nixon, I was using it to refer to the creation of the ONDCP in 1988.

I won't recapitulate all the arguments for why this war isn't working. Just to say that there's no clear evidence that it is working.

My original point was that I was hoping that people would start to wonder why their $50B/year isn't buying them any clear benefit.

Today's NYT (Jan 26, 2006) discusses fears that MExican meth may invade cities, while midwest homegrown meth did not.

- The Precision Blogger

Fair enough, Kevin--you did indeed ridicule the "war on drugs", rather than prohibition in general. What "alternative approaches" do you have in mind, then, that don't involve legalization?

I admit that it's not politically realistic to legalize drugs at this time in the US. Therefore, I'd focus on reducing the cost of the "war" and trying to reduce the economic cost of drug abuse.

First, I'd start with not using foreign aid and military resources to promote the suppression.

Second, I'd change sentencing to focus on treatment of abusers rather than incarceration.

Third, I'd reduce and redirect federal funding of state and local agencies to emphasize treatment programs rather than enforcement toys.

Fourth, I'd reverse the laws that cause perverse incentives (e.g., forfeiture and seizure) or uselessly inconvenience law abiding citizens (e.g., OTC cold medicines and scheduled prescription narcotics).

Fifth, I'd increase the level of data collection and funding for research into abuse reduction strategies. These results would provide the stepping stone for the next steps of my policy.

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